Finland’s epic backhoe endurance challenge gets live streamed

People say that one of the great things about social media is that it makes the world a smaller, more connected place — it lets us learn about strange and exotic places. Like Finland. Before today I didn’t know much about Finland, but add this to the list of things I know now: The Finnish people are apparently really into backhoes.

This summer, a battle of wills has been taking place in six different shopping malls around the country, in what is called the Kaivuriskaba challenge. And that challenge is to sit in a Takeuchi mini-excavator (worth $45,000) longer than the other five guys also sitting in backhoes. Competitors get one half-hour break a day to shower and to use the restroom. The winner gets to keep his backhoe.

Now get this: This competition has already been going on for the last three months.

Three men remain of the initial starting six, and they can currently be monitored via multiple live feeds powered by Swedish live-streaming company Bambuser. Don’t get too excited, though — during the Finnish daytime, the action primarily consists of the guys scanning iPads, speaking Finnish, listening to Finnish music and participating in a live chat with the Finlandians actively following the competition. (Most of the live chat defies Google (s GOOG) Chrome’s attempts at translation, but seem to range from discussing the other competitors to asking questions like, “What’s your favorite song?”)

Sponsors include the Finnish Apple (s AAPL) store Mustapekka, which provided the iPads and other products being used by the competitors, and of course, Takeuchi, the maker of the backhoes. Those who remain are committed to victory — Kimmo Frisk, whose backhoe is located in the city of Espoo, has pledged to “stay until Christmas if I have to,” according to a press release.

The contest was created by Jukka Mutanen, who became “a Finnish hero” in 2010 when he pledged to drive a backhoe 1,000 kilometers across Finland if his Facebook group got 50,000 fans. Backhoes only go about 4 miles an hour, so it took him about a month, which he live-streamed — thus beginning the trend.

If this is fake, it’s an incredibly elaborate prank — there’s an archive of videos from the competition going back three months, and those competing can all be found on Facebook. (18-year-old Arto Kojonen, who is sitting in a backhoe in a Lappeenranta mall, claims his favorite TV show is House.) Plus, when you consider other endurance challenges that exist in the world, buying into the concept of Kaivuriskaba isn’t too tough.

Why write about this at all, you might ask? Well, as a branded content case study, the Kaivuriskaba challenge is probably relatively successful — for one thing, I now know a lot more about Takeuchi backhoes than I did before this article. But beyond that, there’s just something incredibly charming about the idea of these remaining gladiators, sleeping as best they can in their glass-walled cages, waiting for the day when one of them can drive his backhoe to freedom. Thank you, social media, for reminding us just how wonderfully weird the world can be.